Families of the British men held in an Indian jail on weapons charges for four years have spoken of their relief and said their “dreams had come true” after all six were acquitted.
The men, known as the Chennai Six, were first jailed in October 2013 while working as security guards on a ship to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean.
The family of Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland, gathered together as they awaited news from the court in India.
On hearing the men had been cleared his sister Lisa said: “The longer it went on, as much as you still have an element of hope, it does dwindle after having so many delays and setbacks.
“But that hasn’t happened today and we’ve had the best news ever.
“It will make all of our Christmases, all of our dreams have come true today.”
Mr Dunn’s father, Jim, said: “Absolutely fantastic, the best news in the world.
“We haven’t been a full family for a long time now. Nick won’t fully realise it’s over until his feet touch down in Newcastle.”
Customs officials initially boarded the vessel and were said to have found 35 guns and almost 6000 rounds of ammunition.
Charges against the British men were dropped but they were forced to remain in India while prosecutors pursued an appeal.
The men were Billy Irving, 37, from Argyll and Bute, Mr Dunn, 31, John Armstrong, 30, of Wigton, Cumbria, Nicholas Simpson, 47, of Catterick, North Yorkshire, Ray Tindall, 42, of Chester, and Paul Towers, 54, of Pocklington, East Yorkshire.
Yvonne McHugh, partner of Billy Irving, said she was “over the moon” the men had been acquitted and also that it was a “dream come true”.
She added: “We are just waiting to hear how soon they’ll be home.
“That’s the biggest hurdle we faced and all of them have been acquitted.”
Although the men have been cleared, Ms McHugh said she would be unable to speak to Mr Irving as he is not yet out of prison and does not have a phone.
She said: “I won’t be able to speak to him until he’s out of prison, we just want them home as soon as possible.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic and feel proud we’ve managed to do this after four years.”
A post on “The Chennai 6” Facebook page earlier said families were “understandably delighted” at the news.
They are now waiting to hear when they will be allowed home from India to their families.
The post said: “We now wait to hear as and when the men will be allowed home to their families.
“This may take some time whilst the authorities decide whether they agree with the outcome or wish to appeal.
“If they wish to appeal the men might be released from prison but not allowed back to the UK.
“But the families are delighted that finally common sense and justice has prevailed.”
News of their acquittal reached Downing Street which said it will continue to offer consular assistance to the men.
Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “The Government, from the Prime Minister down, has worked hard for over four years to support the men and their families and we share their happiness at the court’s decision to give a full acquittal to each of the men.
“We are now working with the Indian authorities to discuss the next steps. We will continue to offer the men and their families consular assistance for as long as it is needed.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: ” Since I became Foreign Secretary, this case has been a top priority for everybody at the Foreign Office (FCO) and today’s verdict is fantastic news.
“The FCO has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families. The importance the UK Government places on their case cannot be overstated.
“The men, their families and their supporters, who have campaigned unrelentingly, must be overjoyed.
“I share their delight and I hope they can return home as soon as possible.”
The Mission to Seafarers – a charity that has provided counselling, advice and financial support to the men and their families – expressed delight and relief following the hearing.
Ben Bailey, its director of advocacy, said: “Today is a day that we have long campaigned for. Maritime security professionals provide an important service in protecting seafarers from piracy.
“What matters now is that the crew must be given space to be reunited with their loved ones, and the Mission will be supporting them through that process as we have from the start.
“We are liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make available a team of highly-trained counsellors, as well as arranging accommodation and flights home.”